THE BLOG
01/02/2010 12:58 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Complete Couch Potato's Guide to a Healthy 2010: Ten Easy Ways to Improve Health

Ah, a New Year. And with it, a whole new round of New Year's resolutions. Most of us by now have made our New Year's resolutions, and checked them twice. If you're particularly zealous, you have even written yours down.

Our New Year's resolutions are really not so much pledges as they are dreams, dreams of doing all those right things, dreams of getting one step closer to our ideal life. You know, the one in which you're a size 4 to 6, desired and desirable, a smooth operator with all the kinks ironed out and everything in your life finally lining up.

Alas, the more ambitious our dreams, the more we often set ourselves up for downfall--a couple of weeks or (for the more tenacious among you) months down the road. Losing those extra pounds weren't easy last year, and bummer, it's just as hard this year. Getting more exercise, yeah, it's a great idea, but you have just as little time and energy now as one month ago. Spending more quality time with family and friends, yes, it's cool, but not so cool later when your boss yells at you for not meeting that important deadline.

There are many great reasons for sticking to those resolutions, if you want to enjoy good health now, and stay healthy and functional well into your 70s and 80s. However, let's face it, changing lifestyle habits isn't easy, even with a brand-new year ahead of you.

But here is some good news. There are many things you can do for your health that don't take excessive time, energy, or willpower. Here is the Complete Couch Potato's Guide to 10 no-brainer, super easy and effortless things you can do for your health in 2010.

1. Floss Your Teeth
Flossing isn't just good for preventing periodontal disease, it may prevent heart attacks and stroke. Inflammation is a major factor in the clogging of the arteries that lead to stroke and heart attacks. Researchers now think that the bacterial infection of gum disease may spread through the bloodstream and contribute inflammation in other parts of the body. Studies have shown that intensive treatments for periodontitis (gum disease), which reduce inflammation in the mouth, will actually improve the health of the arteries.

Preventing gum disease through regular flossing may also lower your risk of diabetes and all its many undesirable complications. Gum disease is associated with greater insulin resistance, a precursor of Type 2 diabetes. Lastly, flossing may also help keep your mind sharp. People with gum disease have been found to have worse mental functioning, according to a UK study of 6,693 adults in their twenties to seventies. The reason may be that system-wide inflammation caused by gum disease damages the white matter in the brain, impairing mental function. Other studies have found that elderly with gum disease are more prone to have cognitive impairment or develop Alzheimer's disease.

2. Spend Time in the Sun
Too much time in the sun may increase your risk of skin cancer, but spending too little time in the sun isn't good either. You need regular sun exposure to keep healthy levels of vitamin D in your body. Some health professionals believe that optimizing your levels of vitamin D through sun exposure may be one of the most important physical steps you can take to improve your long-term health.

Low levels of vitamin D are associated with numerous health risks, including osteoporosis, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Vitamin D produced via sunlight is thought to help heart health by increasing the body's natural anti-inflammatory defense and preventing calcification of blood vessels.

If you use sunscreen, stay in the sun for 15-20 minutes before applying the sunscreen (in the spring time, start with ten minutes of sun exposure and work up from there). In the winter, when not enough sunlight penetrates the atmosphere, supplement your vitamin D intake with a high quality cod liver oil.

3. Drop the Pop
Yes, Virginia, drinking soda makes you fat. According to a recent study of 43,000 adults and 4,000 adolescents in California, a staggering 62% of adults, who drank at least one soda a day were overweight or obese. Drinking one (or more) sodas a day increased the chances of being overweight by 27 percent.

As soda consumption has increased in this country, so has the incidence of obesity. And, with higher obesity rates, of course, come increased rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, depression and other chronic diseases that are difficult to treat effectively. Further, soda doesn't just lead to obesity, the phosphoric acid in sodas may cause bone loss and osteoporosis, even in men.

Don't think you're off the hook just because you're drinking diet soda instead of regular pop. Several studies have shown that drinking diet soda on a daily basis strongly predisposes you for Type 2 Diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of changes linked to both increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. And, aspartame (NutraSweet), the most commonly used sweetener in diet soda and other sugar-free products may be linked to increased incidence of brain cancer, migraines, and seizures.

4. Hang Out with Health.
Other people influence our health habits more than we realize. If your friends are overweight, there's a good chance you will be too. Cut out the toxic people in your life, and build a social circle of people with healthy habits, who eat healthy foods and don't smoke or drink excessively. If you surround yourself with people who have healthy values and ideally a spiritual orientation in their lives, it will inevitably rub off on your health habits over time.

5. Dump the Slump
Slumping when you sit or stand is not just unflattering, it's bad for your health. Poor posture doesn't just make you look older, it predisposes you to a host of health problems down the road. As we get older, a seriously rounded back, a.k.a. hyperkyphosis or dowager's hump, is a contributing factor to almost every single age-related issue you don't want.

People with a hyperkyphotic bad posture are more likely to suffer fractures of the hip, leg, wrist, shoulder, and arm; the more hunched the back, the greater the risk. The risk of fractures is independent of bone mass density, meaning that hyperkyphosis is a separate risk factor for fractures, on par with osteoporosis.

The rounded back also puts pressure on the chest and lung cavity, causing shortness of breath. In the elderly, shortness of breath is linked to a host of health issues, including increased anxiety and depression, reduced happiness, increased risk of cardiovascular or lung disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Not surprisingly, elderly with a forward hunched posture have higher levels of mortality, as much as 44% higher according to one study. Once developed, hyperkyphosis is hard to reverse, so prevention is your best bet. Although, according to recent studies, yoga exercises for back pain and back health may be useful at reversing hyperkyphosis, even in people over 70.

6. Don't Worry, Be Happy.
Being unhappy, morose, and depressed puts stress on your body--and a lot of it. Being unhappy and depressed releases all sorts of undesirable chemicals in your body; it is almost as toxic to your body as smoking. An unhappy person is about three times more likely to die prematurely than a happy person. Conversely, being happy creates a wonderful soup health-promoting chemicals in your body.
Cultivate happiness. Take time out to do things that make you happy, and minimize the things that rob you of happiness.

7. Stay Clear of Foods in a Wrapper.
According to Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest, populations worldwide where people live to be healthy well into their 90s share one common feature: they fresh, unprocessed foods and have a predominantly plant-based diet. Minimize processed foods, go easy on meats and sweets, and emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, and whole grains.

Processed foods don't' just have chemical additives, they have fewer nutrients. When the body doesn't get the nutrients it needs, it will continually assault you with hunger signals. In addition, most processed foods contain sugars, trans fats or saturated fats, and enriched floors. These don't just offer little nutritional value, they aren't good for you and rob your body of vital energy, leaving you dull and unfulfilled after a meal. By simply staying clear of foods in a wrapper and emphasizing fresh, unprocessed foods, you might just find that your cravings will diminish over time, and you'll very gradually shed some of those extra pounds.

8. Arrive 5-10 Minutes Early
According to Dr. Gershon Lesser, a cardiologist at the University of Southern California, hurry disease is a real pathological entity, which affects a majority of the adult population and claims millions of lives. Hurry disease contributes to numerous illnesses, including colds, flu, and those stress-related heart attacks that often strike as early as in people's fifties or sixties.

The symptoms? Rushing on your way to work, rushing to get things done at work, rushing to a meeting, rushing to lunch and back to work, rushing back home in the evening. Physicians refer to this chronic sense of time pressure as time urgency impatience; and it's epidemic among us multitasking Americans.

Time urgency impatience puts us under a chronic sense of stress, with all the health-undermining effects that that entails: it weakens the immune system; it has been associated with a nearly twofold increase in high blood pressure; and it is a key feature of the heart attack prone Type A personality.
To avoid feeling rushed and in a hurry, make a habit of arriving 5 to 10 minutes early for whatever you're doing next. Or, if you're scheduling a work deadline, give yourself 25 percent more time than you think you will need. Both habits will help you avoid overscheduling yourself, and give an extra buffer against those inevitable delays.

9. Get 8 Hours of Shut-Eye
More than half the adult population report that they regularly experience significant stress and have too little time to get the eight hours of sleep needed for good health and optimum performance.
Yet, sleep is one of the most important bodily functions for maintaining health, and one of the most neglected. Your brain needs downtime to integrate and organize, your immune system needs rest to battle hostile invaders, your body needs time-out to recharge and reenergize. Getting enough sleep will reap immediate rewards, including more energy, greater mental clarity, better mood, more controlled eating habits, more joy.

If you have trouble sleeping, don't get up to watch TV or read a book. Simply lying in bed will give you much of the rest you need, and inevitably, you will dose off intermittently without realizing it. Don't get frustrated and upset--getting all tied up in knots about not falling asleep is a surefire formula for keeping you awake. Instead, maintain a neutral attitude and simply accept that you can't sleep. If you simply lie in bed with your eyes closed, you'll be surprised how refreshed you still feel in the morning, even if you feel you haven't slept a wink!

10. Make a New Friend
If you do nothing else this year, but this, you'll still be way ahead of the game: Reconnect with your body. Many of us are heads walking around on top of a body, disconnected from our physiology. Reconnecting with your body will plug you in to a source of wisdom, which will help all your other health habits to fall into place.

Learn to listen to your body. When eating, snacking, or working out, tune in to your body and notice its signals. If you feel sensations of discomfort or distress, e.g. if you feel tired or bloated after a meal, your body is giving you important information. Heed it. Likewise, if you're working out and your body is resisting, you're likely pushing too hard. Tuning in to your body can help you calibrate your workouts to be more rewarding and hence inherently more motivating.

To help build greater body awareness, consider exploring mind-body types of movement like yoga and tai chi, which encourage you to listen to your body and develop greater awareness of the signals your body is sending to you. Or simply pay attention to your body when you exercise, go for a walk, climb the stairs, or in other ways engage in physically challenging activities.

When you exercise, or engage in any kind of movement, look for the sweet spot. Stay present to the sensations in your body. Our inner wisdom communicates to us through sensations. In holistic types of exercise like yoga, for example, when you focus awareness on the sensations created by each posture, you are actually enhancing the sensations and improving their efficiency. In this way, you establish a communication link to your inner wisdom, and enhance mind-body connection, even as you build strength and stamina.